Sweet’s Syndrome, Photosensitivity & Photoexacerbated Dermatoses.

Links checked 18/03/18.

What is photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity is a sensitivity to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light and can sometimes increase your risk of sunburn. In some people, photosensitivity can cause a skin rash or other type of skin lesion, and skin lesions triggered by sunlight or UV light are called photodermatoses.

What are photoexacerbated dermatoses?

Photoexacerbated dermatoses, sometimes referred to as photoaggravated dermatoses, are a form of photodermatoses caused by a pre-existing condition or skin disease. They can get worse on exposure to sunlight or UV light, normally UVA and not UVB light (Cunliffe, 2016).

UVB light is short-wave light that causes skin reddening and sunburn (Skin Cancer Foundation, 2017). UVA is long-wave light and penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, causing skin ageing and wrinkling. It damages cells called keratinocytes in the bottom layer of the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, contributing to the development of skin cancer (Ibid).

Photoexacerbated dermatoses include:

  • Lupus erythematosus (Oakley, 2016).
  • Dermatomyositis.
  • Darier disease.
  • Rosacea.
  • Pemphigus vulgaris.
  • Pemphigus foliaceus.
  • Atopic dermatitis.
  • Psoriasis.

Is Sweet’s syndrome a type of photoexacerbated dermatosis?

No. Even though Sweet’s syndrome can be triggered by overexposure to sunlight or UV light, it isn’t considered to be a photoexarcerbated dermatosis. It was previously thought that it might be, but more recent research has shown that it isn’t.

What is the research?

In 2011, Sweet’s syndrome was experimentally induced in a 78-year-old man by exposing him to UV light, both UVA and UVB, for three days in a row (Meyer et al, 2011). In 2014, Sweet’s syndrome lesions developed on the arms and back of a 40-year-old woman who had been working in the sun (Verma et al, 2014).

Why can sunlight or UV light trigger Sweet’s syndrome?

As yet, it is not fully understood why sunlight or UV light can trigger Sweet’s syndrome. However, there are two main theories as to why this might happen.


Koebner phenomenon or isomorphic response (Meyer et al, 2011; Verma et al, 2014). Read more here.

What does this mean?

Koebner phenomenon or isomorphic response is a phenomenon that causes skin lesions to appear at the site of a skin injury in otherwise healthy skin. It can happen for a number of different reasons, including overexposure to sunlight and phototherapy (light treatment).


Overexposure to UVB light leading to the activation of white blood cells called neutrophils as a result of cytokine production (Meyer et al, 2011; Verma et al, 2014).

What does this mean?   

This means that when the cells of the skin are damaged by sun, cells next to the damaged cells start spreading cytokines. These are proteins and molecular messengers that are stored by the cells of the immune system. When these cytokines are released, this causes inflammation as the first response of the immune system to destroy the damaged cells, after which the damaged skin starts to heal. Certain cytokines have been proven to play a role in Sweet’s syndrome, and you can read more here.

Important information!

Dapsone and tetracycline antibiotics, e.g. minocycline and doxycycline, are treatments for Sweet’s syndrome. They are known to cause photosensitivity, and this can increase the risk of sunburn.

Further information.

Ngan, V. (2006) Drug-induced photosensitivity. DermNet NZ (online). Accessed 18/03/18.


Cunliffe, T. (2016) Photodermatoses: on overview. PCDS: Primary Care Dermatology Society (online). Created 9th Oct 2011, and updated 6th July 2016. Accessed 18/03/18.

Meyer, V., Schneider, S., Bonsmann, G. and Beissert, S (2011) Experimentally Confirmed Induction of Sweet’s Syndrome by Phototesting.  ACTADERMATO-VENEREOLOGICA (online).

Oakley, A. (2016) Photosensitivity. DermNet NZ (online). Originally published in 1997, and updated by Professor Oakley, Jan 2016. Accessed 18/03/18.

Skin Cancer Foundation (2017) UVA & UVB (online). Medical reviewers, John H. Epstein, MD, and Stephen Q. Wang, MD. Accessed 18/03/18.

Verma, R., Vasudevan, B. and Mitra, D. (2014) Unusual presentation of idiopathic sweet’s syndrome in a photodistributed pattern. Indian Journal of Dermatology; 59(2): 186-189 (online).

2012-2018 Sweet’s Syndrome UK


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